Liability vs. Responsibility (In Defense of the Greek System)
by Therese Kathryn
Cornell, pardon my French, but WHAT THE F*CK ARE YOU THINKING?
So here are the front page headlines of the Daily Sun today:
I don’t have much to say about the last headline, because I never had him as a professor, but I am pretty annoyed/upset at the first two headlines.
With the first headline, I have a lot to say. Last year there was a major exchange between members of the Greek system and Cornell administrators in an effort to prevent horrendous deaths, like that of George Desdunes ’13. Without a doubt, it was a wake-up call to administrators of changing drinking habits, but it was also a challenge to assess the feasibility of drinking/attendance regulations. But naturally, while students are equally–if not more–concerned about controlling dangerous drinking situations, administrators continue to ignore the suggestions of student leaders and pursue methods that not only displace the problem, but also worsen it.
Currently, regulations have been emplaced to prevent Cornell freshmen from attending open events, and new members of Greek organizations to be completely “dry” for the new member period. Once a student is initiated, the student can participate in the Greek system’s other events. This has been discussed for numerous years at this point, but was supposed to be enforced in a graduated manner, first with 4 weeks of the new member period, 8 weeks the following year, etc. But due to the recent alcohol emergencies and deaths, this went into full effect immediately.
But does pushing freshmen away from open parties truly solve the problem? What many Greek leaders tried to explain to administrators was this: Imagine the first Friday night of a freshman at Cornell University. Fraternities have open parties. Collegetown houses have parties. If you were lucky, you may know a person who knows a person who knows a person in Collegetown. You hear there’s a party on College Ave. You know there are dozens of open parties, but you’re not allowed to go to them. What decision does that leave you? To go, with other inexperienced freshman, to Collegetown, to drink hard liquor at a stranger’s house with people you don’t know? Or to sneak into an open party and struggle to get a beer per hour, tops. Still with inexperienced freshmen, but on campus, in the vicinity of their dorm room, with other activities to keep them busy (dancing, talking, etc).
It’s no question that college freshmen know the drinking age is 21. It’s no question that they will seek activities to socialize and diffuse. The problem isn’t so much that they shouldn’t attend Greek parties. The problem is more that the lesser “evil” (drinking discretely in Collegetown) is a greater danger. What bothers me most is that administrators refuse to endorse freshman attendance of open parties, because to be responsible for any drinking would make them liable.
But it’s better to be liable for a single beer on campus than to be responsible for indirectly promoting a ten-shot death off-campus.
Or if liability is the concern, why not create more opportunities for late-night programming? Half of the problem is the lack of non-alcohol-related events. Or environments that allow 21 year olds and non 21 year olds mingle in a monitored setting (i.e. the future campus pub). But you cannot simply pull the plug on one of the biggest social outlets and expect no radical side-effects.
As for the nets… I have little to say. I can already see some idiot encouraging “net parties.” The only proposition I agree with is the suspension bridge one. It serves its purpose without begging someone to jump into a net. I honestly don’t believe the fences or the nets prevented suicides from happening this year. I believe it was the strong support network we developed post-suicide-wave. There was such a unified movement for happiness and well-being, it made the campus a better place. The fences were relics of sadness. The nets? Pits inviting pre-meditated leaps of faith. Imagine being depressed enough to want to jump, thinking that “if God wants me here, I’ll land in the net.” It really invites someone to want to jump rather than encouraging them to work through the pit of their despair. That’s not how we should approach solving the student stress problem. And neither is the approach to freshmen binge drinking.
The point is, there is a difference between liability and responsibility. A university is liable for the death of its students, but it is also responsible for the well-being of its students. There must be a line drawn when liability should pale in comparison to the responsibility to protect its community. It honestly feels more like administrators are more concerned with liability than they are with the general well-being of the student body. They refuse to take our suggestions and alternatives because they seem to have this idea that we want to make rules that allow for binge drinking, that allow for suicide, and that allow for irresponsibility.
If anyone cares about the well-being of the students, it would be the Greek system, whose sole purpose is to create a solid social structure and support system for its students. To create a culture where Greek life is wrong, is telling students that they should never seek a supportive environment, they should never associate themselves with a greater purpose, and that they should feel guilty for ever wanting to be part of the most powerful unifying body on campus.
It is ignorant at best to believe our campus would be better without the social infrastructure that the Greek system has built for hundreds of years. And where I see this campus going is a dark, scary place that turns a blind eye to what students really need.